The state of play with Queensland Health Contracts

14 Feb 2014

By Shadforth Financial Group

2013 was a year of great uncertainty for doctors working within the Public Health system. After the publication of the 'Blueprint for better healthcare in Queensland' and the later release of the Auditor-General's report into the private practice billings in Queensland Health, there has been a storm brewing over how Queensland Health engages with the 3,500 SMO and 750 VMO practitioners.

While both sides agreed that the historical private billing practices within Queensland Health were complicated and inefficient, the apparent rush into individual contracts has been widely criticised by peak medical professional associations. The core concern is that the contractual arrangements proposed in late 2013 would lead to a fundamental imbalance in the power between the parties and undermine the collective bargaining rights of doctors. The specific contractual concerns were around issues of fatigue management, limits on hours worked, pay rates and dispute resolution mechanisms.

A real concern is the uncertainty around future work conditions for doctors in Queensland Health is undermining the strength of the public hospital system. In December 2013, the AMAQ released results of a survey which revealed that '84% of surveyed doctors said they will resign, reduce their hours or move away from Queensland because of these deficient contracts'. Although final decisions are likely to be less dramatic than what is indicated in the survey, the potential ramifications to the level of patient care, future training and development of junior doctors, would cripple the Queensland Health system.

While the negotiation process is currently well underway, it is not expected that the final outcome will be known until mid-2014. In recent months, the AMA and ASMOFQ have reported that while some 'notable advances' have been made in negotiating improvements to the individual employment contracts for SMOs and VMOs, there still remains a number of unresolved issues. At the heart of remaining concerns, from a financial perspective remuneration remains an unknown and there are no guarantees that it will not be adversely impacted.

On 28 January 2014, the Queensland Government released what they have indicated is the final version of the SMO and VMO contracts. Queensland Health is aiming to have the new contracts signed by 30 April 2014. In the interim, the negotiation process between individual doctors and each hospital and health service to determine KPIs and remuneration will be in full swing.

A number of key stakeholders (in particular AMAQ, ASMOFQ and Avant) have indicated they are working hard to represent their members through this transition and are available to discuss any specific concerns. Although the uncertainty has been tarnishing the morale within Queensland Health, the recent progress indicates there is light at the end of the tunnel. We'll keep you posted.

To learn more about Daniel, view his online profile.

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